The Tetris Company Wins Copyright Battle Against Cloner

June 20, 2012 -

Cloned games are nothing new to the games industry. You can hardly walk the isles of Gamestop or browse the listings of the iPhone App Store without coming across a clone or two [thousand]. This is especially true for many classics such as Breakout or in this case Tetris.

As a little back story for this case, Xio Interactive developed a game it called Mino which it admits was directly inspired by Tetris. When this game was discovered by The Tetris Company, it sued Xio for copyright infringement in the US District Court of New Jersey. During the course of the legal fight, Xio claimed that its use of the rules and mechanics were fair use as ideas and rules cannot be covered by copyright. Tetris argued that because almost all assets of Tetris were copied, the game infringed its copyrights. This left the Judge in the unenviable position of determining just what aspects of Tetris are not covered by copyright.

In this ruling, the Judge admitted that basic rule sets and gameplay cannot be covered by copyright. So he set about figuring out just what were the core concepts of Tetris. He ended up ruling that the basic rule set of Tetris that is not copyrightable is the idea of a game in which shapes fall from the top of the screen and must be lined up with other shapes to clear the board. As an example of a game that used this basic rule set that does not infringe the Tetris copyright, the Judge cited Dr. Mario.

The Judge then went on to rule that because Xio had copied far more than the basic rule set for Tetris, going so far as to copy the exact dimensions of the play area, the shape and color of the pieces and several other mechanics, that its use did indeed violate the Tetris copyright. The Judge also included several side by side comparisons of the two games (as seen at the top of this article) that were virtually identical. The Judge also explained that had Xio altered enough of the game, such as changing the dimensions of the play area, the shape and look of the game pieces or their behavior with each other it could have avoided the infringement claim.

So what does this ruling mean in the overall debate over game cloning? Not much really. The ruling was made in a District Court with jurisdiction only in the State of New Jersey. So it does not hold precedence outside that jurisdiction. Also, the ruling will most likely be appealed to the 3rd Circuit. Which means that it could be over ruled.

However, as an exercise, let's consider that this case has bearing across the US. Would it help those fighting against cloning of their games? Not likely. The ruling is pretty narrow in scope. While it is a win for Tetris, it is mostly a win against outright clones rather than games that have a heavy inspiration from other games. For example, it might not apply to such recent cloning examples as Tiny Tower vs Dream Heights or Radical Fishing vs Ninja Fishing. So don't start shouting in the streets that the era of game clones is dead as that is a bit premature at this stage.

Source - The Tetris Company vs Xio Interactive


Comments

Re: The Tetris Company Wins Copyright Battle Against Cloner

I think this is about as close to a perfect ruling as there could have been. Bravo to the judge for doing her due diligence and striking the perfect balance between protecting original works and allowing inspiration/creativity.

Re: The Tetris Company Wins Copyright Battle Against Cloner

But...Tetris and Breakout are the "Hello World" of game development...

Re: The Tetris Company Wins Copyright Battle Against Cloner

From my reading of the PDF, relatively small changes to the rules and presentation (changing the height of the playfield, for example, or giving the Tetromino-clones different colors and/or portraying them as a single block rather than four smaller blocks) would be enough to avoid infringement.

Re: The Tetris Company Wins Copyright Battle Against Cloner

I would say that copying in a non-commercial education setting (learning to program games) should still not be an issue.

Re: The Tetris Company Wins Copyright Battle Against Cloner

As long as blanat copying is covered and little else..


Copyright infringement is nothing more than civil disobedience to a bad set of laws. Let's renegotiate them.

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http://zippydsm.deviantart.com/

Re: The Tetris Company Wins Copyright Battle Against Cloner

A win against outright clones is still a win ^_^

I am glad that this case was so narrow.  Games copying from each other has always been a very hazy area, with most people agreeing that there need to be tools for dealing with the worst offenders, but most also being uncomfortable with overly broad tools that could be used to shut down (often lame, but legit) competition.

I think I would have been happier if the ruling was a _little_ more broad, but I think the balance in this case is better to be on the conservative/narrow side.

 
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